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Activision Blizzard pays employees for health tracking


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Activision Blizzard is paying its employees to use health-tracking software and then monitoring the information being tracked.


The publisher was featured today in a Washington Post article about Ovia, a pregnancy tracking app companies are incentivizing their employees to use. The piece reveals that Activision Blizzard has been compensating its employees for using health monitoring technology since 2014, when it began encouraging the use of Fitbit activity trackers.


Since then, the company has expanded the effort to include tracking of mental health, sleep habits, and diet, as well as autism and cancer care. Activision Blizzard VP of global benefits Milt Ezzard told the Post that the general reaction from employees to these programs "has gone from, 'Hey, Activision Blizzard is Big Brother,' to, 'Hey, Activision Blizzard really is bringing me tools that can help me out.'"


"Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry: 'You're prying into our lives,'" Ezzard said. "But we slowly increased the sensitivity of stuff, and eventually people understood it's all voluntary, there's no gun to your head, and we're going to reward you if you choose to do it."


For Ovia, Activision Blizzard offers $1 a day in gift cards to employees using it. The app allows women attempting to conceive to record numerous personal details from when they begin trying to conceive, through pregnancy, and after birth. That includes sleep schedule, diet and weight, as well as when they have sex, their mood, and the appearance of their cervical fluid. Women can also detail complications of pregnancy, miscarriages, and other information.


Activision Blizzard pays Ovia to access some of that data in an anonymized, aggregated format, including average time it took for employees to get pregnant, percentage of high-risk pregnancies, C-sections, or premature births, and how long it took new mothers to return to work.


For companies like Activision Blizzard, Ovia offers its services as a way to lower medical costs and increase productivity. Women tracking all of this information could potentially be more likely to conceive without expensive infertility treatments, and may be less likely to require costly premature births or C-sections. (A complicated birth in the US can run up a hospital bill in excess of $1 million.)


"I want them to have a healthy baby because it's great for our business experience," Ezzard said. "Rather than having a baby who's in the neonatal ICU, where she's not able to focus much on work."


Privacy advocates have raised concerns that such tracking apps could be used to discriminate against employees who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, particularly in companies where there are few enough pregnant women at any one time that it would be possible to identify individuals in the data given. Ezzard told the Post that Activision Blizzard averages around 50 employees tracking pregnancies at any one time. Between Ovia and other incentivized health-tracking programs, Ezzard said Activision Blizzard saves about $1,200 per employee in annual medical costs.


Another privacy concern lies with security. As the Post had previously reported, ovulation-tracking app Glow's security was such that anyone could access a user's information (including daily alcohol consumption, when she'd had sex and in what position, or whether she'd had an abortion) if they had her email address. Another such app, Flo, was sharing its users' personal data with Facebook until a Wall Street Journal report exposed the practice earlier this year.


Ovia said it does not share or sell data to social media sites, but its terms of use explicitly give it permission to sell aggregated personal information to third parties or use the information it collections for external and internal marketing purposes.


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